The April 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Murder of Mary Katherine King

Eyes Wide Open

California Lifts Food Stamp Ban

The Ordeal of Ramona Choyce

Republicans Shred Disabled Housing

Art and Activism of Jos Sances

The Paintings of Jos Sances

Gambling with Social Security

Billionaires Grow Richer, Poverty Worsens

Existence Itself Is Banned for the Homeless Poor

Bush Policy Errs on Chronic Homelessness

Sankofa House: A Rainbow for Homeless Women

Student Summit Against Hunger

A Lifetime at the Bus Stop

Working for Transit Justice

Poor Leonard's Almanack

BOSS Community Organizing

The Anguish of Classism





May 2005

February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Student Summit Against Hunger and Homelessness

by Lydia Gans

A homeless man appears to be isolated and ignored by the public, even in the midst of a busy street scene on Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue. Photo by Lydia Gans

Walk along Telegraph or Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley and almost always there will be someone sleeping on the sidewalk or sparechanging. People walk by, eyes straight ahead, focused on anything but the destitute human being sharing their space. They walk on by because they feel embarrassed or guilty or superior, because they don't care or because they have too many other things on their minds.

Only a few people will try to connect by giving a look and a word and maybe some cash. Even fewer will be moved to go further and give themselves to larger action, addressing the problems of hunger and homelessness in society.

Among those few activists involved in the homeless cause are a number of students who belong to CALPIRG, the Public Interest Research Group at the University of California. CALPIRG is part of a network of student and community PIRGs all over the country that act on many different social issues: energy, water, food, health, the economy, etc.

Sophomore student Kelly Liu coordinates CALPIRG's actions on homelessness. She had been involved in community service in high school, so she naturally drifted to CALPIRG when she came to UCB; but she finds it hard to get people involved. Liu explains some reasons for the prevailing apathy on this crucial issue.

She noted that, on the UCB campus, there are "tons of people walking up and down upper Sproul every day, and you see people handing out little flyers. And you see people just walk by. You try to hand them just a simple flyer and they just turn their blinders on and try to act like you're not there. I think that's the same thing that happens with the homeless people on the street. Not just because they don't care; it's just a lot of people feel like they got a lot more important things on their mind to think about."

Her CALPIRG group connected with the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness to organize a West Coast Student Summit Against Hunger and Homelessness, a two-day conference held in February on the UCB campus to listen and learn, and to plan and commit to action.

These hunger summits have been annual events on the East Coast for a number of years. This was the third one held on the West Coast. About 100 students attended, mostly from western states and a few from the East Coast. Conference organizers tried to keep costs to the participants at a minimum; but there were expenses that had to be covered, which probably limited the number of students who were able to attend.

The summit theme was an ambitious one: "Seeing the Big Picture: Piecing Together the Puzzle to End Hunger and Homelessness." Local and global action was addressed in a series of panel presentations by experts. A session which featured three local people who have experienced homelessness clearly affected the listeners.

These discussions were followed by almost two dozen truly impressive "how to" workshops. Some of the topics were:

1. Make Them Pay Attention to Us; Advocacy For Long Term Change.
2. Make Trade Fair.
3. It's Dinnertime. Do You Know Where Your Food's Been?
4. Microenterprise: Ending Poverty With a Hand Up, Not a Handout.

The conference also included discussions on coalition building among young people and elders and between the campus and the community.

Michael Diehl, a local homeless organizer for BOSS, led a workshop on the civil rights of homeless people. He was pleased with the response. The participants wanted to know how to start CopWatch chapters in their towns to monitor police treatment of homeless people.

The students also discussed how to influence the Bush administration to stop threatened cuts in programs such as Section 8 and Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) which help fund shelters and other homeless services.

Diehl said, "We really need to be focusing on a national level and they (the students) seem to be doing some good stuff on that; it looks like they're actually having an impact." The Gray Panthers have been very active in the campaign to save Section 8, "but having students as part of that campaign is important. The seniors as a group are powerful, but it's good to have young students support it too."

Third-year student Jessica Sedley was the chairperson of this year's summit. She said she has "two passions" -- science and "working on a social and political level against homelessness." She brought that passion to the summit.

"It's really important that students realize how much else there is to do other than direct service," Sedley said. "We hope students come away from the conference not just with an understanding that there's a problem in homelessness; hopefully, they go home with the tools to make a difference in their community."

Many of the activities were organized to encourage coalition building, and "making connections" with a view to political action. As Sedley pointed out, "A lot of the panels and workshops are geared toward legislation, how to run an effective campaign, how to lobby. Students need to be more aware of the political aspect of homelessness."

The students who attended this conference don't walk past homeless people and look the other way. Rather, they are troubled by what they see and are moved to do something about it. The Student Summit Against Hunger and Homelessness helps give them the tools. They leave with the determination to join in coalitions with other people of good will to bring about change. We applaud them.

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